Look at the acceleration of COVID-19 cases, the hospital admission charts and the evidence that the disease is being transmitted from the young to the old.
We are now riding the second wave of this disease and the latest data is, in the words of the prime minister, “flashing at us like dashboard warnings in a passenger jet”.
“We must act now,” he told the public as he fronted another news conference in No 10 on Monday night.
But when it came to it, the only part of the country put under much stricter measures was the Liverpool City Region.
The prime minister put together the framework for tougher local lockdowns – what he didn’t do was actually implement it beyond one area in the North West.
There was buy-in from Liverpool’s Metro mayor Steve Rotheram, but elsewhere in the North East, North West and Yorkshire, the prime minister struggled to negotiate deals with local leaders and regional mayors.
Greater Manchester was definitely a flashing light on the PM’s dashboard but in the end the mayor Andy Burnham and other local leaders resisted being put into the very high alert category.
But the prime minister and his chief medical officer Professor Whitty were unequivocal that more robust measures will be needed to have any chance of controlling this second wave of the virus.
Indeed, the prime minister told the public at his news conference this package of measures will only work “if we implement Tier Three properly in the way it needs to be done”.
He also told me that if he couldn’t get buy-in from local leaders, he would act unilaterally. “If we can’t get agreement then clearly it is the duty of national government to take the necessary action to protect the public and protect public health.”
And these measures alone might not be enough. Professor Whitty was clear at the news conference that the new three-tier system “will not be sufficient” to slow infections alone. “That’s why there’s a lot of flexibility in the Tier Three level for local authorities… so that they can do significantly more than the absolute base.”
Professor Whitty’s remarks were backed up by minutes from the government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Monday night revealing their assessment of the task ahead.
Forget closing pubs in areas of very high risk areas, these experts advised doing a lot more than that on 21 September: with recommendations ranging from that ‘circuit breaker’ short lockdown to a closure of all bars, restaurants, cafes, indoor gyms and personal services like hairdressers.
Tensions between central and local government were on show on Monday, but it’s obvious the prime minister has used a light touch so far compared with some of the options he was given.
He is, after all, trying to tread the “narrow path” between the “social and economic trauma of a full lockdown and the massive human and economic cost of an uncontained epidemic”.
But it is surely only a matter of time before other cities, starting in the North but no doubt spreading across England, join Liverpool with stricter lockdown rules. It’s a question of when not if – and the bigger question is whether the prime minister will have to go even further. If the decisions being made seem this hard, just imagine how much harder it’s going to get.